1 Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.” 2 And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his waist. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.
3 Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. 4 And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. 7 Then he said to them, “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.” So they went out and struck in the city. 8 And while they were striking, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, “Ah, Lord God! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”
9 Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.’ 10 As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.”
11 And behold, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his waist, brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded me.” – Ezekiel 9:1-11 ESV
The next phase of Ezekiel’s vision would be the most disturbing of all. Standing in the temple courtyard, Ezekiel heard the voice of the Lord calling for armed guards to begin the execution of the wicked. In his vision, Ezekiel saw six men appear “from the upper gate that faces north, each carrying a deadly weapon in his hand” (Ezekiel 9:2 NLT). Accompanying them was another man dressed in a linen robe and carrying a writing case at his side. While these seven individuals appeared to be men, they were most likely angelic beings, called upon by God to carry out His judgment upon the rebellious people of Judah.
As Ezekiel watched, the Shekinah glory of God, which rested above the ark of the covenant within the Holy of Holies, lifted up and moved to the entrance of the temple. This transition of God’s glory from its place above the mercy seat is significant and illustrates God’s extreme displeasure with His chosen people. When God had given Moses the instructions for building the tabernacle in the wilderness, He had included details concerning the ark of the covenant.
“…make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover. Mold the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold. The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it. Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel.” – Exodus 25:18-22 NLT
When King Hezekiah of Israel found his nation threatened by the Assyrians, he entered the temple and prayed the following prayer to the Lord.
“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see!” – Isaiah 37:16-17 NLT
Now, as Ezekiel witnessed God’s presence departing from its place above the mercy seat and moving out of the Holy of Holies, he knew this could not be a good sign. And God confirmed the prophet’s suspicions when He gave instructions to the man carrying the writing case.
“Walk through the streets of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of all who weep and sigh because of the detestable sins being committed in their city.” – Ezekiel 9:4 NLT
This divine “CPA” was to make an accounting of all those withing the city of Jerusalem whose hearts were heavy over the sinful state of affairs within Judah. They were to receive some kind of identifying mark on their foreheads that would provide them with protection from the coming destruction. Their continuing faithfulness to God while surrounded by rampant apostasy, idolatry, and immorality was to be rewarded with deliverance from God’s pending wrath.
A similar scene was revealed to the apostle John when he was given a vision of the end times. He too saw a remnant of faithful Jews who received a mark that would protect them from the coming judgment of God.
Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” – Revelation 7:2-3 NLT
Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. They were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. – Revelation 9:3-4 NLT
Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. – Revelation 14:1 NLT
Ezekiel is given no indication as to how many would receive the mark, but it would appear that the number was relatively small. One man was given the task of identifying and marking all those who remained faithful to God and burdened by the moral decay of their city. And as the scribe went about his business, he was accompanied by the six executioners, who were tasked with destroying all those who failed to receive the mark.
“Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all—old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin right here at the Temple.” – Ezekiel 9:5-6 NLT
And the first to die were the 70 leaders whom Ezekiel had seen worshiping false gods within the hidden room inside the temple. These men had been guilty of misleading the people of Judah. They were promoting idolatry and pretending to serve as priests before their panoply of false gods. And God had strong words for all those who served in leadership positions among His chosen people.
“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord.
Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them. But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 23:1-4 NLT
God’s judgment began with those in authority but quickly spread to any and all who had turned their backs on him. God’s judgment was indiscriminate and merciless. And God’s anger was so great that He ordered the defilement of His own house.
“Defile the Temple!” the Lord commanded. “Fill its courtyards with corpses. Go!” So they went and began killing throughout the city. – Ezekiel 9:7 NLT
This scene was intended to foreshadow events that would soon take place within the walls of Jerusalem. The vision served as a kind of cinematic trailer, giving Ezekiel a glimpse of the destruction that would take place at the hands of the Babylonians.
So the Lord brought the king of Babylon against them. The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. – 2 Chronicles 36:17-20 NLT
Ezekiel was given a preview of coming attractions and it was rated R for graphic violence. What he saw left him stunned and visibly upset, causing him to drop to his knees in sorrow and cry out to God in despair.
“O Sovereign Lord! Will your fury against Jerusalem wipe out everyone left in Israel?” – Ezekiel 9:8 NLT
The number of the dead must have been far greater than the number of those who had received the mark on their foreheads. From Ezekiel’s perspective, it appeared as if the entire population of the city was being slaughtered right before his eyes. It was more than he could take and watching the devastation left him wondering whether God’s actions were just and warranted. Even Ezekiel could not comprehend the egregious nature of Judah’s apostasy. He must have believed that there were far more faithful within the city and that God was overreacting. But God justified His actions by exposing the full extent of the apostasy among His people.
“The sins of the people of Israel and Judah are very, very great. The entire land is full of murder; the city is filled with injustice.” – Ezekiel 9:9 NLT
The people lived as if God was non-existent. Either He couldn’t see what they were doing or simply didn’t care. For centuries, they had managed to escape any judgment for their idolatrous behavior, so they had grown complacent and cocky. They saw themselves as untouchable, claiming, “The Lord doesn’t see it! The Lord has abandoned the land!” (Ezekiel 9:9 NLT). But they were wrong.
The sovereign God of the universe had been watching and waiting, and now He was preparing to punish them for their sins.
“So I will not spare them or have any pity on them. I will fully repay them for all they have done.” – Ezekiel 9:10 NLT
The chapter closes with the divine scribe reporting back to God that he had successfully accomplished his assignment. The remnant had received the mark and been spared, while all the remaining inhabitants of the city had been destroyed. God’s will had been done but Ezekiel’s vision was far from over. There was more to come.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.